Greater Birmingham Humane Society

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The Greater Birmingham Humane Society is the oldest and largest humane society in Alabama. It's mission, set by founder John Herbert Phillips, is "to promote respect for life through education and prevention of cruelty to animals and people". The society operates independently of publicly-funded animal control efforts, providing care to unwanted animals and dispensing shelter, veterinary, cruelty-prevention, disaster preparation, and educational services with private funding.

The current executive director is Allison Black Cornelius, who succeeded Jacque Mayer in 2012. The board of directors is chaired by Arthur Edge.

History

The society was founded in 1883 as the Birmingham Humane Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Animals, one of the first such groups in the United States. The group was incorporated in 1910. By 1915 the society had opened a pet shelter at 2115 Avenue A, boarding pets for $1.50 to $3.50 per week. In 1919 Phillips succeeded in getting humane legislation passed requiring each county to enforce minimum standards for animal care.

In 1920 the Birmingham Humane Society received a $50,000 bequest from Christiana Webb to construct a new shelter, the Christina Webb Building, which was completed in 1927. During the 1930s the society was able to concentrate its efforts on animal welfare as child cruelty cases were taken on by the county's juvenile courts.

In 1957 the society discontinued boarding and grooming services. In the late 1960s Mayor George Seibels acquired funding for a separate city-owned animal control facility. In the early 1970s Birmingham passed a leash law and raised fines for animal cruelty from $50 to $500. In 1974 the society created a new constitution and bylaws and began holding an animal Christmas Giving Tree fundraiser.

In 1975 the society purchased a warehouse at 1713 Lomb Avenue. It continued to lease the warehouse to a heavy equipment operator until 1979 when it was remodeled for the society's use. Funding from United Way was cut sharply in 1987 after the society refused to move into a smaller facility shared by Rabies Control. The Christina Webb building was demolished that decade, with the scrap sold to help fill budget deficits.

In the early 1990s the Humane Society went to a five-day week and began the PAL program providing low-cost spay and neuter certificates. The Tailwagger retail store opened in space donated by Century Plaza and, in 1999 Pet Supplies Plus on U. S. Highway 31 in Hoover donated space for an adoption center. That same year the society began investigating animal cruelty complaints.

In 2000 animal neglect and cruelty was elevated to a class C felony in Alabama. The society hired a full-time investigator. In 2004 GBHS moved its adoption services to a new building at 300 Snow Drive in Wildwood.

In January 2015 the Greater Birmingham Human Society took over Jefferson County's contract for animal control and shelter services in unincorporated areas and municipalities with fewer than 5,000 residents from BJC Animal Control. Along with the contract came use of the county's deteriorating shelter in Woodlawn. Their contract was renewed for three years in January 2016. By city ordinance, GBHS must euthanize feral animals brought in by Birmingham Animal Control, but are able to work with Vestavia Hills to neuter and return feral cats to where they were trapped.

In 2016 GBHS president and CEO Allison Black Cornelius began discussing a proposal to relocate all of the society's operations onto a 27-acre parcel of the Trinity Park site in North Titusville. Their $30 million plan hinged on the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County, which jointly own the property, agreeing to donate the site. In early 2018 Jefferson County approved the sale of part of the property to a data processing company, effectively scuttling the GBHS plan.

GBHS operations during Cornelius' tenure as director have been criticized by activists and by some former staff members. In 2017 GBHS's board of directors issued a statement saying that they had investigated claims that Cornelius had improperly used organizational funds for personal expenses, and other allegations of falsifying reports on animal welfare and threatening critics. The board concluded that none of the detrimental claims were supported by evidence and expressed their full support for Cornelius and the GBHS staff.

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